Off The Scale: Max Richter Interview

Lie down and absorb the sublime
Max Richter
With more intriguing collaborations than Howard Marks, MAX RICHTER, a hero of modern classical piano, has just released one of the most stunning albums of the new decade. Lie down and absorb the sublime.

There’s something oddly comforting about the sound of steady rainfall. The repetitive noise and the instant familiarity offer respite from the day-to-day. It’s present on a number of Max Richter’s albums and it typifies his beguiling attention to detail. “I love the sound of the rain,” he explains. “It’s very broad and fills the space in this beautiful way. I love that texture.” The sound of everyday life is commonplace in Richter’s largely instrumental music; subtle layers capturing the world going about its business make his records some of the most jaw dropping things you’ll hear in a while. He’ll make you happy, make you sad and soundtrack all the emotions you’ll experience in between.

His new album, ‘infra’, began life as the score to a Royal Ballet piece by Wayne McGregor and artist Julian Opie and has been expanded ahead of its release, with further pieces accompanying the original music. The additional tracks are “like another waltz through the material,” Richter explains. “I started to find new things in the material I wanted to explore. It’s like turning a bit of sculpture in your hands to get different perspectives on the material.” It’s all suitably compelling, managing to juggle a variety of hugely disparate emotional states in the space of forty minutes.

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Whilst rooted in classical music, it’s not that easy to define what it is that Max Richter releases. Take the piece that brings the first half of the new album to a close, ‘infra 4’. “It starts out kind of classical and then slowly explodes, giving a perspective between a more classical universe and a sort of droney world.” It’ll creep up on you and catch you unawares, ploughing a unique furrow somewhere between euphoria and warm melancholy. Don’t be surprised if you struggle to find the words to express how it makes you feel - that’s kind of the point. “I think part of my writing process is trying to play on those things we can’t articulate. For me, music is a brilliant parallel language. It’s a great way to reach for things where I sort of don’t know what they are but want to get to them anyway.”

For someone who describes writing music as “a compulsive, obsessive disorder,” it is unsurprising that his back catalogue is just as mesmerising as this latest outing. ‘Songs From Before’ features a disembodied narration from Robert Wyatt (“I didn’t want any kind of romantic delivery, he did it so well”) while ‘24 Postcards In Full Colour’ offered an alternative approach to the humble ringtone. “Because we’re always on, people are very scattered, brains all over the place. I just thought, we’ve got these little musical moments going off all around us all the time and wouldn’t it be great to put loads of intensity, thought and care into making these tiny things?” It makes for an oddly compelling listen, born of meticulous editing and crafting in the studio, something which took several months for the new record: “I find it impossible to judge what I’ve made until I’ve let all the dust settle and then I can get a sense of what it is and if it is what I thought it was.”

And what of the future? For a man who never seems to sit still, it’s both heartening and entirely predictable when he excitedly mentions the scope of his current project: “It’s a big piece that’s going to be split across three records, called ‘Voices From The Black Sites’. I’m deep in that at the moment.” Just enough time for you to get up to speed then.

Words by Gareth James

Max Richter performs 'Infra' in full at the Cadoghan Hall on the 17th September.

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